Foreign Policy Blogs

Force in Iran, Engagement with North Korea

MacArthur Foundation President Robert Gallucci

Speaking at a Brookings Institution panel discussion in Washington, DC on Friday (March 2nd), ex-nuclear envoy Dr. Robert Gallucci startled audiences with the admission that he believes use of force may be the only method to ensure Iran’s nuclear program is irrevocably halted.

“I have no confidence that any degree of sanctions will actually stop the Iranian nuclear program…I think of the use of force – repeated use of force – as the only way in which we can be confident of stopping the weapons program [in Iran],” Gallucci, now President of the MacArthur Foundation, said during his remarks.

Tempering this statement, he said he was unsure of the feasibility of such strikes, taking into account military capabilities on the US side.

“I actually don’t know the degree of military effectiveness we could have with a strike. It’s just that I don’t think there’s another course that is open to us, as an outsider looking in, that I would be confident in really slowing the program down,” he said during Q+A.

But when asked which nation would be best positioned to undertake such strikes, the US or Israel, Gallucci remarked that the US is militarily much stronger than its ally in the Middle East.

“I read a lot and I have read that we are more capable than Israel of putting aircraft over target,” he said as the audience chuckled.

“But I am very concerned about the consequences – the people who would be involved, who would die in the course of that act, the reprisals from the Iranians on every place they have assets,” he concluded.

On North Korea, Dr. Gallucci, a former official who undertook talks with the Asian pariah in the mid-1990s, broke from his use-of-force stance with regards Iran and said he believes the Obama administration’s policy of engagement is the right one, although time is a factor we must keep in mind.

“I see the North Korean case as substantially ‘easier’ than the Iranian case…Containment is not a good strategy. This issue does not age well. It does not become fine wine.”

After the event, Gallucci clarified his remarks with this reporter, calling forth an example from history of when engagement on nonproliferation worked.

“A partial model is South Africa…Now they did not give up the fissile materiel, but they did disassemble, as I understand it, the nuclear weapons and subject the fissile materiel to international inspections. thats not a bad starting model for North Korea,” he said.

He also added since the DPRK views this time – between the December death of Kim Jong-Il and the 2012 South Korean elections – and an time when they have “real incentives to be on their good behavior,” any deal that paints them in a good light in the eyes of the international community is positive.

“I think the deal right now for the North is to get what they could in terms of economic help of all kinds from us,” Gallucci said, referring to the recent talks between the US and DPRK in Beijing that saw agreements by the North to stop motile testing and uranium enrichment.

“If they really would like to influence the South Korean elections and be clear they’re not now posing a threat, then they might as well get rewarded for this.”

Asked if this agreement was a calculated win on the part of the North Koreans or a loss, Gallucci said, “I’m guessing from what I’ve heard of the discussions that [the North Koreans] went in hoping for more, but they go something out of this. And of course, they’ve given up not so much, right? It’s another freeze. So in my view, it’s fine. It’s a good first step.”